The European Institutions – Commission, Council and Parliament – have reached an agreement on the so-called “Conflict Minerals” Regulation last Wednesday. Civil society organisations, both in Europe and in the South, have been asking for years for a strong regulation to break the link between the exploitation of minerals and Human Rights gross violations like funding rebel groups or children’s labour. Some key elements would still be discussed in the coming months but NGOs are disappointed of this missed opportunity.
EU is both the largest trading block and the second largest importer of mobile phones and laptops in the world. This means it has the capacity to tackle the trade of conflict minerals by making sure that European companies are sourcing responsibly.
However, the narrow scope of the targeted enterprises by the present resolution won’t make a real difference for the suffering of the people in conflict areas. The regulation will apply only to a small number of European companies that buy raw minerals, while letting off the hook the large number of companies that bring minerals into the EU market but once they have already been transformed. Most of the four minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold – the regulation is dealing with – get into the EU market in a finished or semi-finished form which is exempted of any mandatory due diligence. Voluntary standards exist already for years but they are very rarely applied by downstream enterprises.
In acknowledgement of this, other countries in the world, like the Democratic Republic of Congo or the United States of America, have already passed binding regulations in order to frame this potentially deadly trade.
Reducing the ambition of the agreement, the European Union will not only undermine international standards but mainly it will let down the local communities who suffer daily from the violence associated with conflict minerals. In the meantime, European companies and citizens would continue to profit from this immoral business.
The agreement establishes a review of the regulations effectiveness after several years of implementation. Our request is simple: European companies should act with due care when buying minerals or products that may be linked to conflict or human rights abuses. But this diligence should be mandatory for the whole supply chain; this is the only way it can be really effective. Equivalent European regulations exist already in other sectors like financial services, timber trade or food.
The link between minerals and human rights abuses have been documented for years but European companies still use such minerals without addressing these risks. It is time to change, the European Union has to adopt effective regulation to ensure that all companies source minerals in a responsible, transparent and sustainable way.